Marion was worried. It was only ten minutes to the start of the Autumnal Equinox ceremony and Kristoph wasn’t here. His father and brother were waiting with her in the drawing room. Everyone else was already assembled in the big marquee on the meadow.

Rodan was quiet. She was sitting on the sofa, splendidly dressed in deep red velvet with Genolian lace around the collar and hem. She was wearing new shoes, and was fascinated by her own reflection in the polished leather. She must have been aware that this was an important day for her, but it wasn’t bothering her very much as long as she had a new dress and new shoes for the occasion.

“If he doesn’t get here in time…” Remonte began.

“He must,” Marion insisted. “It would be unthinkable to go ahead without either of them. That’s why we didn’t present Rodan last year. We wanted her grandfather to be here to see her. He should be here. It’s a time for families. And he IS her real family, after all. She’s going to be living with him next year when he finishes his term of service with the Merchant Fleet.”

Everyone knew that, of course. Marion mentioned it more and more frequently these days. Her father in law nodded and looked at his youngest son. She knew what they were both thinking.

SHE was the one who needed reminding of that fact more than anyone else.

Last year, the day when she would have to part with Rodan seemed a long way off. Now, it was a mere six months or so. This Autumn Equinox ceremony was one milestone in her life that Marion would treasure. But there were only a few more to come. Another Christmas, another birthday – after that, she wouldn’t be her little girl any more.

So it was important to her that Rodan’s presentation as a child of the Lœngbærrow estate, a child of Gallifrey, went according to plan.

In another ten minutes, that plan would be in tatters.

“How can he be late?” Marion asked. “I mean… he’s in a TARDIS. A time machine. How can anyone be late in a TARDIS?”

Remonte and his father exchanged glances. Marion looked at them and her heart quavered.

“What?” she demanded.

“Well…” Remonte began. “Marion… you know TARDISes have been known to fail. Something could have happened.”

“Fail?” Marion looked at him in horror. “You mean… he could have broken down? Or… or something worse?”

A TARDIS, after all, was a very powerful machine that was bigger on the inside than the outside because of a very small component called a dimension chip. It was powered by a mysterious kind of radioactive energy. How many things could possibly go wrong? What if that dimension chip failed? What if the artron energy chambers were breached and radiation flooded the console room? What if the TARDIS lost energy and fell out of the vortex into random space and time without any power?

“Marion!” Remonte spoke her name gently. “Marion, it’s all right. If anything THAT drastic had happened to Kristoph we would know.”


“He’s my brother. We were born of the same flesh. I would know if he was mortally wounded. He’s all right, Marion. I promise you.”

“My youngest son is right,” said the elderly Lord de Lœngbærrow. “If something as terrible as you are imagining had happened to my son, we would both feel it in our souls. You must not let your fears take such dreadful shapes. Even if the TARDIS has failed, it can do no more than delay him.”

“I know. I’m silly. I worry about all sorts of things, even when there is nothing to worry about. I sometimes think… I have no right to be as happy as I am. Surely something will go wrong. Something will temper this happiness I have.”

“There is nothing to be afraid of, Marion,” Lord de Lœngbærrow assured her. “And… listen. All is well.”

Marion jumped up as she heard the unmistakeable sound of a TARDIS materialising in the hall. A moment later, Kristoph came into the drawing room, followed by Argis Mielles, Rodan’s grandfather. Kristoph, of course, was dressed in the gold and scarlet regalia of his rank ready for the ceremony. Argis was in a black robe with a large brooch on it that Marion recognized as the symbol of the Merchant Fleet. He was a proud man who would accept a borrowed robe for his granddaughter’s presentation, but he would wear that identification of his role in Gallifreyan society.

Marion hugged Kristoph and accepted his explanation that they had been delayed by ion storms in the vortex. Remonte helped him to fix his grand collar and headdress that completed the outfit and the three elders of the House of Lœngbærrow were ready.

“I shall see you in the marquee presently,” Kristoph said to Marion as he and his father and brother went on their way. Marion nodded and turned to see Argis lifting his granddaughter into his arms. It was months now, since Rodan had seen him, but she seemed to know him all the same. She put her baby arms around his neck and let him kiss her cheek.

“She is so big now,” he said in a rather choked voice. “I have missed so much of her growing up while I have been away. My little one.” He looked at Marion and nodded politely to her. “You have taken good care of her,” he added. “I couldn’t begin to thank you for that.”

“She is a precious thing,” Marion answered. “Kristoph and I love her very much. Caring for her is no hardship.”

Argis said nothing in response to that. Marion wondered if it was the right thing to say. He loved Rodan, too, of course. She was his own flesh and blood, and these few occasions when he got to see her were precious to him.

“It is time for the ceremony,” she told him. “We should go.”

“Yes,” he responded. “Of course.”

He carried Rodan. That was only right and proper. Marion walked beside him out of the house and along the path through the formal gardens to the meadow where the great marquee was set up for the Autumn Equinox celebration. Everyone else was there already. Two seats remained near the front. Argis looked a little surprised to be treated as an equal by the wife of the Lord of the demesne. But it was all arranged and he took his seat with Rodan on his knee as the simple ceremony began to celebrate the Autumn Equinox.

Equinox was a very good name for this ceremony, Marion thought. For all that they seemed to naturally arrange themselves into Oldblood aristocrats and their Caretaker servants even within the marquee, there was a kind of equality about it. They were all together for the same purpose. The young of the Lœngbærrow estate, the babies and the schoolchildren and the proud youths all presented themselves with their offerings of music and drama and dance and the baskets of Cúl nuts that represented the autumnal harvest and the promise of renewal after the coming winter.

Rodan was the oldest of the small children being presented for the first time. She walked by herself, carrying a basket of flowers that she offered to Kristoph. Behind her were two other youngsters who could walk on their own two feet and mothers with babies in their arms, coming to receive the blessing of the patriarch upon them. Argis watched his granddaughter proudly. So did Marion. Kristoph smiled proudly as she performed her role in the proceedings so very perfectly before walking back to her grandfather’s arms.

Afterwards, of course, there was an informal party. Distinction of rank and birth were almost – though not quite – forgotten as the people of the Lœngbærrow estate feasted by their Lord’s patronage. Marion danced with Kristoph several times. She danced once with Caolin, their butler, while Kristoph danced with his pretty young wife. Once she danced with Remonte, while his wife danced with her father in law. She enjoyed herself thoroughly, as Kristoph fully intended for her to do.

Argis Mielles didn’t dance. He spent much of the time sitting in a quiet spot with Rodan near him. She was too impatient to sit on his knee the whole time, of course. He let her play where he could see.

Marion came and sat with him for a while. He smiled politely at her and again thanked her for looking after his grandchild so well.

“It won’t be so long now,” he said. “We are on the return journey now. We’ll be home before the spring equinox. I will have my savings and a large bonus from the work I am doing. I shall be able to make a good home for her. She won’t want for anything.”

“I’m sure she won’t,” Marion assured him. “I shall miss her. But… it is right and proper that she should live with you. You are retiring from the Merchant Fleet, I suppose?”

“I am. I missed too much of my own daughter’s life because I was so often away. And now she is gone. His Lordship has promised to find me a position on the Estate. I shall be able to give Rodan all that she needs.”

That was twice, Marion noted, that he had assured her that Rodan would be well provided for. She wondered if he thought he couldn’t. Of course, he would not be able to buy her velvet dresses as often as she did. But she knew he would do his best for her. And it would be a good, loving, home.

Marion told herself that every time she thought about Rodan leaving her and going to live with her grandfather. She knew it was true.

Even so, when the festivities were over, when all was quiet, when Argis was sitting in the drawing room playing multidimensional chess with the elder Lord de Lœngbærrow, and Kristoph and Remonte were deep in talk about the estate accounts, Marion excused herself from entertaining Rika and Aineytta and crept upstairs to the nursery. Rodan was asleep, exhausted by the excitement of the day. She sat by her cot for a little while, listening to her quiet breathing, watching her face twitch as she dreamed a quiet, baby dream.

Marion cried softly as she thought of the day that would come all too soon, when she would have to part with her little fosterling. Having her grandfather here for the night under the same roof made it all too real for her. Rodan would be going one day. She would still see her, of course. But she would not be her mother any more.

After a little while she dried her eyes and went back downstairs again. She sat with Rika until it was time for bed. Argis was staying in the servant’s quarters as a guest of Caolin and his wife. They said goodnight to him. Aineytta and Lord de Lœngbærrow went to their room, Remonte and Rika to theirs. Kristoph took Marion’s hand and they retired to the master bedroom. As Marion undressed and got ready for bed Kristoph looked in on their foster child and came back smiling.

“She had a good day, today,” he said. “It’s good for her to spend time with her grandfather.”

“He’s sleeping in the servant’s wing and she is in a nursery beside the master bedroom,” Marion noted. “There’s something not quite right, there!”

“It’s right for him,” Kristoph assured her. He climbed into bed beside her and held her in his arms. He was tired, too, after a long, busy day. But he fully intended to make love to her soon. She responded to his opening caresses with a happy sigh. He knew she had been a little unhappy earlier, and he knew why. She was thinking of the time when they would have to give up Rodan to her grandfather.

By then, if would be more than two years since they mourned the loss of their own little girl. Perhaps it would be time, he thought, to think about trying again.